Electric digital clock, American, 1930.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This Art Deco clock, manufactured by Penwood Numechron Co of the United States, is made from brown phenolic and has the word 'TELEVISION' printed on its face. The first synthetic thermosetting plastic was phenol formaldehyde. It was patented by the Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland (1863-1944) in 1909. When combined with a wood flour filler, phenol formaldehyde, known by its trade name 'Bakelite', it forms an excellent mouldable and durable plastic, with very good electrical insulating properties. Phenolic plastics are dark in colour due to their fillers.